Trump quietly rolled back programs to detect, combat weapons of mass destruction: report

The Trump administration over the last two years has undone or diminished numerous programs that were created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to help detect and avoid incidents involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the Los Angeles Times reported.

The dismantling has happened at the Department of Homeland Security — the government arm primarily in charge of helping law enforcement identify and stop possible threats domestically — without prior review of how it would affect stateside security.

More than 30 current and former Homeland Security employees and contractors told the Times that the changes — including canceled training exercises and the large-scale exodus of scientists and policy experts — have put U.S. citizens at higher risk for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks.

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“We’re not as secure as we were 18 months ago,” Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE, who helped lead Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office until mid-2017, told the Times.

James McDonnell, appointed to Homeland Security positions by President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? MORE, reportedly ordered the cutbacks and changes.

McDonnell — whom Trump named director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office in early 2017, then promoted in May 2018 to lead the new Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office — over the last two years has changed WMD terrorism prevention goals and policies.

Current and former Homeland Security officials said they do not understand McDonnell’s reasoning for cutting back training and procedures meant to bolster readiness, detection and tracing, with many of the shifts running counter to priorities authorized by past and present presidential directives and in-place laws.

Many noted occurrences where specialists, in a perceived retaliation for raising concerns about McDonnell’s policies, were removed from their areas of expertise.

A Homeland Security spokeswoman told the Times that the office realigned or restructured some programs “to better address threats, remove bureaucratic redundancy, and fully align with [Trump’s] National Security Strategy.”

The Times found that more than 100 scientists and policy experts with knowledge of radiological and nuclear threats were reassigned or given positions not related to their expertise. The same has happened to numerous more scientists and experts specializing in countering biological threats.

Among the programs gutted or disbanded since 2017, includes a Homeland Security “red team,” meant to hold dozens of drills and assessments around America annually to help law enforcement officials detect potential threats; the Operations Support Directorate, which helped lead WMD-related training exercises each year with state and local authorities; and the National Technical Nuclear Forensics Center, which worked federal government counterparts to shore up detection that might stop a foreign state from handing over radiological or nuclear material to terrorists.

Another Homeland Security unit, the International Cooperation Division, which worked with foreign counterparts to detect and prevent nuclear materials smuggling, also has been disbanded.

The use of mobile detection units, meant to help protect large public events from nuclear and radiological threats, was also cut back, and efforts to update a formal “strategic, integrated” assessment of chemical, biological and nuclear-related risks were stopped under McDonnell.

Dissatisfaction with McDonnell’s changes grew so strong that in a Dec. 18 “all-hands” staff meeting at Homeland Security, a Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office supervisor asked then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenTrump says acting Homeland Security chief McAleenan will step down Activists to demonstrate at ICE headquarters after Cameroonian immigrant dies in custody Ex-Citizenship and Immigration Services chief returns to DHS in different role MORE to intervene, people who were in the room told the Times.

Nielsen’s office ordered a personnel official to conduct a “workplace climate assessment,” which was submitted in early May, after Nielsen resigned, and has not been publicly released.